“This is my 20th appearance in the Masters – having made my debut in 1994 – and let me tell you the experience never gets old,” he said. “You feel a buzz when you arrive and the butterflies start to dance around in your stomach. Everyone’s excited to be here, even the champions from 20 or 30 years ago. You never want to stop coming back; it’s that special.”
Over the years The Big Easy has watched Augusta change to suit the modern game. To this day it's a course where you take par and run… making birdies and eagles is an extra treat that shouldn't be banked upon.
“Perhaps the most significant change these past 20 years is the length of the course, which has been stretched from around 6,900 yards to almost 7,500. That’s maintained a lot of the shot values and, in fact, on some holes we’re hitting more club into the greens even though the golf ball and the clubs we’re using are so much better than they were in the 90s," said Els.
“A lot of the time you’re not actually aiming at flags, but safe spots on the greens – playing smart and trying to keep yourself below the hole. Trust me, you need a lot of patience to do well at Augusta, but then again you need a lot of everything; this golf course really does test every facet of your game and your mind."
Els has been steady during the 2014 season, playing mostly in the United States, where he is the leading South African on the PGA Tour Money List. Last week in Houston he had two good rounds and managed to tie for 43rd, but it takes more than that to compete for a green jacket.
“It was good to get four rounds under my belt at the Shell Houston Open last week. There were a couple of decent rounds in there, as well, especially the 68 on day one. My game’s close, but close won’t cut it in a major championship,” he said.
There are no surprises in the weather forecast this week, which means Els will know exactly how to tackle the course. With a game on the verge of clicking and a 20-year history at Augusta, this could finally be his time.
“We’re told the forecast from mid-week through to the weekend is for dry weather with warm sunshine, which is perfect for golf and perfect for the powers-that-be at Augusta to get the course playing firm and fast. That’s when this beautiful old girl tests your game to the max. I need to step it up if I’m going to get in the mix this week,” he said.